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Normal: Chapter 3        

Ma throws stuff into the Ninja: strawberries, pineapple, dates, ice cubes . Like a smoothie will make everything better. Mimi scowls


“Ma. Talk to her.” Mimi throws herself into a chair, crosses her arms. “Please. It’s — it’s not normal.”

Ma is busy at the freezer, so Mimi can’t see her face. “It’s only the first day, Mimi. I’m sure it’ll get better.”

“How can it? Everyone thinks she’s — I mean, it’s just — mortifying. She shows up with that awful trench coat and school supplies from the 1950s. I bought her stuff, why can’t she just use it and look regular, at least?”

Ma throws stuff into the Ninja: strawberries, pineapple, dates, ice cubes . Like a smoothie will make everything better. Mimi scowls.

“And she keeps talking about being my sister, and she tells the teachers the most embarrassing things. Like she started complaining in math class that she learned everything already in ninth grade, and shouldn’t Mrs. Weber be ‘differentiating based on her unique scholastic abilities?’ ” Mimi’s voice rose. “Everyone looks at her like she’s nuts. And then they look at me like I’m crazy, as well!”

“Oh, Mimi, you’ll be fine,” Ma says. The Ninja spins, transforming the fruit into a liquidy, peach-colored swirl. Ma takes out a glass and fills it to the brim, placing it in front of Mimi with a comforting smile. “Don’t worry about your class. They’re going to get to know Kayla, just like we do, and they’ll stop staring so much. It’s going to be okay.”

Mimi’s stomach tightens into a hard, chafing knot.

“I’m going to Ella’s,” she says roughly.

The smoothie is left, melting, behind her.

For once, Mimi blesses those teachers who give homework on the first day of school. She and her friends had made up to get together a little later to study, but Ella won’t mind her coming early.

She can’t walk fast enough. Get away, get away, get away. From Ma, from the memories of her awful day, from Kayla.

Why did her sister have to switch schools? Why did she have to land up in Mimi’s class?

Ella’s house smells of lemon-scented cleaning products. Ella’s mother works crazy hours for some fancy company, and they have live-in cleaning help, so the house is always spotless.

“Miss Ella is upstairs with the others,” Juanita says, pointing her duster up the elaborate staircase.

The others?

Mimi taps on the door. No one answers, but she hears muffled voices and laughter from inside. She waits a beat, then pushes the door open. Ella, Tzippy, and Shoshana are sprawled on the floor, schoolbags piled in a heap in the corner while they nosh on popcorn and apple chips. Ella-style nosh.

What are they all doing here?

Ella jumps up. “Mimi! I didn’t hear you ring the bell.”

Mimi shrugs. “I guess it was noisy in here. Besides, we planned to meet at six.”

Her friends exchange uneasy glances.

“It’s not — it’s just how it worked out,” Tzippy says. “I came home with Ella because I live too far to walk back and forth. And then Shoshana—”

“Had to escape the pre-wedding chaos,” Shoshana supplies. “I came literally five minutes ago. And now you’re here too, so we can start studying.”

“Or not,” Ella adds, giggling.

“Why study when you can eat, you mean?” Tzippy teases. Ella’s always on a diet, not that she needs it.

“Why study when we can enjoy each other’s company, I mean,” Ella says loftily.

They laugh.

Mimi settles down on a beanbag, leaning back into the comfortable fabric and closing her eyes. “Don’t mind me. Keep talking about whatever you were talking about before I came, and wake me when you’re up to studying.”

The room goes quiet. Mimi’s eyes fly open.

“Did you — did you hear us?” Shoshana asks, finally.

What on earth—

“We didn’t mean it badly,” Ella adds, and the feeling of off-ness intensifies.

“It’s just that — it came as a surprise to us,” Tzippy says.

So it’s not just her reputation, her social standing, the way her classmates all look at her… now, she’s going to lose her friends, as well.

Mimi stands. Her legs are shaky.

“I didn’t hear anything,” she says. Her voice sounds like a stranger’s. “But I’ll go, and you can carry on whatever you were saying without me.”

“Wait — no, Mimi, please, it’s not like that!” Tzippy looks genuinely alarmed. “I’m sorry it looked like that. But it’s not — we care about you, we’re friends! We were just… surprised, that’s all.”

“Surprised that what? I have a sister like — like that?” Since when does she sounds so… bitter?

“No,” Ella says. “We were surprised that you didn’t tell us. Why didn’t you say anything?”

Mimi looks around the room. Her friends look back at her, eyes wide with concern. Slowly, she sits back down.

“I didn’t say anything… I guess, because I was hoping it wouldn’t happen,” she admits.

“But why — what —” Shoshana asks, and Tzippy nudges her.

“It’s fine. It’s not a secret.” Mimi bites her lip, remembering Kayla’s announcement: That’s Mimi, she’s my sister! “Kayla had to switch schools, my parents wanted her to join our school. Our grade.” She gives a wide, fake smile. “So, I get to have my… sister… in class with me. How lucky am I?”

Ella, Shoshana, and Tzippy let out a collective sigh. Sympathy? Understanding? Pity?

“Ooooh.” The room goes quiet again.

Not one of them reassures her that it’s okay, that she’s overreacting, that everything will be fine. Somehow that makes her feel even worse.

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 892)

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